Take a rollicking farce that is more than 500 years old and inject it with a large amount of music from the late 20th century and what do you have?
In the case of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “All Shook Up,” the answer is a highly entertaining evening of familiar melodies and a plot that becomes so hilariously twisted it takes about 2 ½ hours (including intermission) to get everyone straightened out and properly paired up.
What makes this seemingly unlikely combination of Elvis Presley’s best-known songs and the reimagining by playwright Joe DiPietro of one of Shakespeare’s most-produced farces so totally enjoyable is the unbridled enthusiasm of the cast, most of whom are still in their ‘teens.
The opening line of “Twelfth Night” (the work by The Bard of Avon on which the circuitous plot is based) is “If music be the food of love, play on.” In the rousing ECT production it plays on…and on…and on.
If some of the individual voices are a bit less than solo quality, each one makes up for being “pitchy” with frequently endearing energy and enthusiasm. The sharp staging by John J. Shoup, assisted by Leann Reas-Sullan, underscores every comic incidence and makes the most of all the fast-paced happenings.
There is no way to unravel the plot. It is no easier set in “A small you-never-heard-of-it-town somewhere in the Midwest” during the summer of 1955 than it was, set in Illyria on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea in about 1601.
Against Jeffrey Barrack’s stylized drops, the story of “Roustabout” Chad (Tell Williams IV), who literally roars into town on his motorcycle and more than disrupts the status quo, is nothing but fun from beginning to end. As each principle player “falls in love(?)” “One Night With You” is the romantic anthem of choice.
The town is under the thumb of Mayor Matilda (Joy Freude), who has enacted “The Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act” which prohibits “loud music, public necking and tight pants.” In no time, Chad is rousing the residents to rebellion.
In the tradition of true farce, everyone is falling in love but no one is falling for the right person. Among the mis-matched inhabitants are Sylvia, owner of the local café (Wanzetta Arnett); her daughter Lorraine (Dayna Arnette); Jim, a widower and owner/operator of the local garage (Rick Nymeyer); his daughter Natalie, who also serves as chief mechanic (Carly Swendsen); Dennis, town nerd and bad boy wannabee (Matthew Manley); Dean, the mayor’s son avoiding a return to the Stonewall Jackson Military Academy (Andy Braden); Miss Sandra, the town’s new librarian (Ashlea Romano); and Sheriff Earl, silent head of law enforcement (Tony Venable).
These, plus two trios (Brittny Goon, Kristen Abbey and Julie Kavalenko and Jared Yoder, Jacob DeLong and Joshua Garcia) who supply some excellent backup work, do well presenting numbers from The King’s repertoire. An ensemble of 13 and Kids’ Chorus of four deliver a really solid sound thanks to vocal director Sandy Hill.
Suspension of disbelief allows cute and perky Carly to pass as sidekick Ed, even without a dirty face. Watching the repressed inhabitants throw off the inhibiting yoke of Mayor Matilda and learn to “Follow That Dream” results in one laugh after another.
I also guarantee that, whether or not you were ever an Elvis fan, watching the ‘50s-style choreography by Dawn Manger (with John Shoup) set to the excellent eight-piece orchestra directed by percussionist Mark Swendsen will get your toes tapping. It’s definitely unavoidable considering the extensive range of the 24-song score.
It’s a look back and way, way back to a time when “A Little Less Conversation” resulted in steady fires of “Burning Love.”
“ALL SHOOK UP” plays at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in downtown Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.